Every Roman Emperor: A Video Timeline Moving from Augustus to the Byzantine Empire’s Last Ruler, Constantine XI

Famed Roman ora­tor and con­sul Cicero is cel­e­brat­ed as a staunch defend­er of the Repub­lic, and of tra­di­tion­al Roman moral­i­ty and civic virtues. He was also a shrewd oppor­tunist who sur­vived the Republic’s demise and lived to tell about it, although he sup­port­ed Julius Cae­sar’s rival Pom­pey in the con­test for con­trol of Rome. When Cae­sar became a dic­ta­tor, he for­gave Cicero. And when Cae­sar was mur­dered, Cicero applaud­ed:

Our tyrant deserved his death for hav­ing made an excep­tion of the one thing that was the black­est crime of all… here you have a man who was ambi­tious to be king of the Roman Peo­ple and mas­ter of the whole world; and he achieved it! The man who main­tains that such an ambi­tion is moral­ly right is a mad­man, for he jus­ti­fies the destruc­tion of law and lib­er­ty and thinks their hideous and detestable sup­pres­sion glo­ri­ous…. All hon­est men killed Cae­sar… some lacked design, some courage, some oppor­tu­ni­ty: none lacked the will. 

Cicero then attached him­self to Cae­sar’s great-nephew and named suc­ces­sor, Octa­vian, the future Augus­tus, Rome’s first emper­or. “The elder states­man was extreme­ly flat­tered to have Octa­vian ‘total­ly devot­ed to me,’” José Miguel Baños writes at Nation­al Geo­graph­ic. “He became con­vinced that an alliance with Octa­vian might help to destroy [Mark] Antony’s polit­i­cal aspi­ra­tions.” This time, Cicero backed the right dic­ta­tor. Nonethe­less, before com­mit­ting sui­cide with his lover Cleopa­tra, Antony had the great ora­tor behead­ed. It was “the moment,” writes Baños, “the Roman Repub­lic tru­ly died.”

Cicero’s death, and Augus­tus’ ascen­sion, marked the birth of the Roman Empire, ruled by a suc­ces­sion of emper­ors — or some­times two, three, or even six or sev­en emper­ors. Many of these are renowned, right­ly or wrong­ly, for their deca­dence and hedo­nism. Caligu­la, Nero, Com­modus have all become vil­lains in fea­ture films. Some were philoso­phers, like Mar­cus Aure­lius; some were teenagers, like Heli­o­ga­balus, who reigned from age 14 to age 18, when he was mur­dered by his own Prae­to­ri­an guard, and Romu­lus Augus­tu­lus, the last of the West­ern emper­ors, who ascend­ed at age 12, a proxy for his father, and was deposed by Ger­man gen­er­al Odoac­er in 476 AD.

The Empire con­tin­ued for anoth­er 1000 years of Chris­t­ian rule in the East, first under Con­stan­tine, in Con­stan­tino­ple (now Istan­bul), which had been named Byzan­tium; hence Rome became the Byzan­tine Empire. The video above shows a time­line of every Roman emper­or from Augus­tus to the very last ruler of the East­ern Empire, Con­stan­tine XI Palaiol­o­gos, who sur­ren­dered Con­stan­tino­ple in 1453 to Ottoman Sul­tan Mehmet II.

The Empire had final­ly fall­en, 1500 years after Cicero warned of the Republic’s demise. Before his army’s defeat, the last Byzan­tine Emper­or gave a speech to “the descen­dants of the Greeks and Romans.”

I can tell you that this city mas­tered the entire uni­verse; She placed beneath her feet Pon­tus, Arme­nia, Paphlag­o­nia, The Ama­zon­ian lands, Cap­pado­cia, Gala­tia, Media, Geor­gian Colchis, Bospho­ros, Alba­nia, Syr­ia, Cili­cia, Mesopotamia, Phoeni­cia, Pales­tine, Ara­bia, Judea, Bac­tria, Scythia, Mace­do­nia, Thes­saly, Boeo­tia, Locris, Aeto­lia, Arcar­na­nia, Achaea, the Pelo­pon­nese, Epirus, Illyr­ia, Lykhnites, the Adri­at­ic, Italy, Tus­cany, the Celts, and Gala­t­ian Celts, Spain up to Cadiz, Libya, Mau­ri­ta­nia, Ethiopia, Beledes, Scude, Numidia, Africa and Egypt.

Con­sid­er, said the last emper­or, “my broth­ers and com­rades in arms, how the com­mem­o­ra­tion of our death, our mem­o­ry, fame and free­dom can be ren­dered eter­nal.”

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

What Did the Roman Emper­ors Look Like?: See Pho­to­re­al­is­tic Por­traits Cre­at­ed with Machine Learn­ing

Hear an Ancient Chi­nese His­to­ri­an Describe The Roman Empire (and Oth­er Voic­es of the Past)

The Chang­ing Land­scape of Ancient Rome: A Free Online Course from Sapien­za Uni­ver­si­ty of Rome 

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (3) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (3)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Chryssi TSIROGIANNI says:

    This is an excel­lent, very well pre­pared doc­u­men­tary.
    I would have only one remark on the arti­cle : in 1453 the last Emper­or of the Romans Kon­stan­tin Palaiol­o­gos did not sur­ren­der Con­stan­tino­ple to the Ottomans. Instead he fought with his men until death before los­ing the bat­tle.

  • Dan says:

    Con­stan­tine XI Palaiol­o­gos din NOT sur­ren­der.
    He felt his duty was to die fight­ing, the pres­ti­gious lin­eage he was part of had to die with him, sur­ren­der­ing was not an option.

  • Tori says:

    The last Roman Emper­or ( not Byzan­tine) did nev­er men­tion ” greeks ” in his speech.

    This is a forgery or fairy­tale invent­ed in the inter­net ( most­ly by mod­ern greeks) to steal or change the iden­ti­ty of the east­ern Roman Empire.

    In his speech he men­tiones Romans and only Romans.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.